I wonder what kind of guitar the Broom is? You haven`t heard of either? Well, you will read about it in this article, but I can not give you any answers. I guess that Mr. Anderson really knew how to spell this famous guitars name, especially when you know that one of his interests is Greek. The writer of this article lives in South London and runs his own company called Rexclusive these days – for the most of the 70s he worked for NME.
The other person mentioned in this article, John Birch, sadly passed away in november 2000. His company still exists under the name of John Birch Guitars UK.
Tony Iommi just recently ended all concert activity with his band Black Sabbath, one of the greatest bands that will ever exist for all eternity.
The Secret Of The Hidden Valley
A thrilling melodrama by ever-popular Rex Anderson, in which two intrepid explorers recount the adventures that befell them in the upper reaches of the M1 – homeland of the Iommi tribe.
Somewhere in the upper reaches of the M1; in the untamed lands where the swarming bees drive the natives indoors in the summer-time and lone wolves prowl at night in search of a tasty morsel of visitor`s ankle; somewhere, on a lesser tributory of the 47th intersection is a land where no white man`s eye has ever set foot.
There lives Tony Iommi, lead guitarist of the Black Sabbath tribe with his stunningly attractive native bride, Susan, whom some believe has strange, enchanting powers and whom some call simply She.
There too, in the misty, murky foggy nights of the forgotten country-set mansions of the awe-inspiring Leicestershire landscape, dwells the great mystic witchdoctor, friend of the Brum-brogued Iommi and soothsayer to those in the lead guitar fraternity who have read the signs.
Some call him “Ablokeimet,” – but locally he is known by the strange, almost unproununcable native name of John Birch.
Our story begins one mild-but-drizzly-on-high-ground January afternoon (visibility good, outlook fair) when two intrepid explorers set out from Long Acre (the old NME base before the great river crossing) with our trusty native guide in search of the wisdom of Iommi.
We were destined not to meet the legendary Birch, but rumour has it that he speaks a strange tongue which few men (other than the mysterious tribe of Electrical Engineers) can understand, and that when he speaks this tongue he is often siezed in a mystical and sacred trance so that none can stop him for several hours.
Our journey passed uneventfully. We found the Iommi palace without mishap. It was indeed a grand residence, of such a size that Birmingham council could have built an enclosed shopping precinct in the hallway and erected a council estate in the conservatory.
We were welcomed and made comfortable by the hospitable Iommi and having put him at his ease and explained the functionings of the camera – dispelling all ideas that his soul would remain imprinted on the image of the negative – I questioned him as to his dealings with John Birch and as to what of his teachings concerning the guitar he could pass on to me.
Iommi explained, in almost perfect English, that the jungle telegraph – what he described as the grape-vine – first brought his attention to the great wizard but that at that time he was conversant in only the common magic of electronics and that it was Iommi himself who encouraged him to research the higher magic of guitar manufacture.
He said: “I went to see him with one of the guitars to do one of the pick-ups or something. He wasn`t actually making guitars at that stage, but there were so many people going to see him, asking him to repair this or that – broken necks and other bits that went wrong – that he started up a little business at home doing repairs.”
Birch`s initial interest and expertise had been in electronics, but Iommi says he became involved with the rest of the make-up of guitars and began to criticise the workmanship in many well known makes.
Throughout the conversation Iommi referred to a guitar which he said was very popular by a strange name that I was never able to translate and so I will refer to such guitars throughout as Brooms.
Please remember that whenever I mention Brooms I really mean a famous make of guitar that, as I say, I was never quite able to catch the exact name of.
Iommi said of Birch: “He said that a lot of workmanship in the guitars was bad and I can agree with him. It is. The newer Brooms are not as well made they used to be. I have a Brooms that is badly made and it`s not even one of the later ones. The later ones are worse.”
He produced a red one which he said was terrible when he first had it but which had been doctored by the amazing Birch.
“I think if you can get hold of the older ones the work is there. Now they are mass produced. They are just churned out.”
I asked him if he didn`t think the newer ones were merely immature and that possibly the older ones seemed better because any faulty ones had been thrown away or repaired so that only the best had survived.
He agreed that there was some validity in my argument. He said that he liked to play a guitar that felt as though it had been used, and that one of the great feats of magic that the amazing Birch performed was to produce a guitar, a brand new one, with a neck that felt as though it had been matured by time and use.
“With most new guitars you buy now, the frets are rough. It just doesn`t feel right. That`s how it was with that Broom – I picked it up and it was terrible, but I knew I could get work done on it. I brought it back to John, had all the neck taken down, had new frets, new tuning keys and a new pick-up put on. It`s virtually a different guitar now.”
What is it that John Birch does to his guitars, apart from that, to make them distinctive and better than other guitars?
“The guitar itself is made of one piece of wood from head to tail – whereas Brooms are joined at the neck/body junction and they`re weak there. They`re also weak at the head/neck junction. If you drop them they snap. But Birch guitars will stand up to very rough treatment, so they`re perfect for taking on the road. Look at this Broom.”
Iommi picked up the guitar, strummed it and applied light pressure to the neck. The strings immediately dropped a semi-tone.
“You can sit down and tune it and when you stand up it goes out of tune. I like the old guitars and this one has a particularly nice feel, but there is that problem – which is why with the newer ones they`ve tried to stop it by building this heel where the neck meets the body. But I can`t say it`s a well-made guitar.”
Iommi is very critical of the instrument. He doesn`t like the heavy tailpiece, but says he bought the guitar for a particular job and because he knew he could have it worked on.
“But you can`t compare it to one of these,” he said, indicating his Birch guitars. “Even in looks alone they knock spots off it. And now he`s (Birch) got these different pick-ups so they`ve got tone as well.
“Why people bought the old Brooms was to get that old, dirty rusty sound and because Clapton has used them and all the rest of it. But if you`re playing at volume, especially like we do (chuckle), that sound becomes squealier and howlier and God knows what else.
“I`ve had a few Brooms before. I had a rare 1951 three-pick-up model or something in the days of `Paranoia` – in fact, I done `Paranoia` on it – and as soon as you plugged it in it squealed. The coils were so loose in the pick-ups that they just used to vibrate and cause feedback.
“What Birch has done is produce the sound of the Les Pauls, that raw gutsy sound, but made it really solid so that there`s no whistling.”
Another Birch innovation is a guitar with interchangable pick-ups. The pick-up itself can be slotted in from the back. He and Iommi have a patent on this idea, which was perfected as a result of Tony`s need for one guitar with the different pick-up sounds of all the others for studio work.
“Normally you can alter the controls on the guitar or on the amp or use a different amp, but you don`t actually change the effect of the pick-up itself. If you put all the bass on the amp you get a muffly sound and if you take the bass off and put on all the treble you get a thin sound, but the pick-ups have a sound of their own and you can only build on it with the amp.
“Like the Fender sound… a Fender guitar, with those single-pole pick-ups has a thinnish sound. If you have power behind you from the stack you can get a really gutsy sound from them.
“Using an AC30 with a treble booster you can get a particularly good sound with the Strat, but I`ve tried it on recording and I find it really thin in comparison.”
Iommi has a Birch Interchangeable for recording and another Birch, with beautiful inlaid crosses all up the fingerboard, which is now his favourite for stage work. He is unstoppable in his praise of the amazing Birch.
“I think he`s a genius in his own right. The difference with him is he`s trying all the time to make something better. He`s trying to make the perfect guitar – the perfect instrument for anybody, not just one particular player.
“He can make anything you want, including the sound of the pick-ups. I tell him what sound I want, perhaps play him a record and tell him it`s something between that and this, and he can produce it. He`ll just keep doing it until it comes right.”
Birch doesn`t just make custom guitars for the stars. He also makes standard models that come off a small production line and are slowly finding their way into the musical stores.
When buying one, the customer, presumably for a fee, can request any adjustments he likes. Iommi believes Birch`s retail price for a production-line guitar is about £250.
“But people think they can get a Broom if they pay just that bit more… they think because it`s a Broom it`s got that much more in it. But it hasn`t. It fools a lot of people. If they would only pick up a Birch and feel the difference…
“Birch also has a different system for truss-rods that I don`t quite understand. And he sets all the controls in epoxy resin so everything is absolutely solid. Another nice thing is this plate right across the back so you can never scratch the wood. He only employs one type of timber now, too.”
Examining the guitar, it`s apparent that Birch has coated the fretboard with polyurethane varnish, sanding both fingerboard and frets between each coat. The result is a scalloped effect similar to that seen on some antique classical guitars which were originally made that way so that ladies would find them easier to play.
The guitar also has a virtually flat fingerboard; there`s no bevel to speak of – a feature that Tony apparently prefers.
“Nothing is impossible for him. It got to the stage where I was asking him silly things. Making things up like – can you build a little tape recorder in the guitar? And he would say: `Yes… yes I think that can be done if we…”
“He`s also got a pick-up now that`s two sounds in one. It`s got a switch to give you a different sound… He`s more or less built two pick-ups into one. He was even talking about building one to fill all the space between the bridge and the end of the neck. It would be so powerful and gutsy it would just blow the amps up. But this one is as near as damn it to the Broom sound I wanted – and he hasn`t ripped a Broom pick-up apart, he just knew what was wanted electronically.”
The controversial LP-cover once made for the band Boxer.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Fania All-Stars, David Bowie, Sailor, Gay and Terry Woods.
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